October 15, 2009

Christmas Baking, Part Two

When I was twelve we spent the winter holidays in England for a real English Christmas. Or at least, I thought it would be a “real” English Christmas. Even at twelve I had read too many books featuring Victorian House Parties or windswept winter moors. Needless to say, we did not spend our afternoons tromping through the woods looking for Yule logs or listening to a caroling party. Instead we tromped though the wet streets of London, spending our afternoons entranced at the Christmas displays at Harrods and Fortnum and Masons. Which was just as enchanting. WE ate fish and chips wrapped in greasy day old newspaper. We went on a tour of the Parliament building where a guard gave my brother a rubber band “the Queen’s Rubber!” which awed a five year old Garrett into silence. And when it was almost Christmas Eve we drove out to Cornwall, at trip that , despite being only 250 miles took two days and one overnight stop in a little village where we stayed at the Bear Inn which I was convince was haunted, (someone gave me Jamaica Inn to read on the trip, maybe not the best idea for an over imaginative child)

Cornwall was rugged and beautiful and magical. My great Aunts house was, well, not. My overwhelming memory of that house involves being made to eat multiple helpings of Bubble and Squeak, which to this day gives me the willies to even think about. And I have no memory of eating a Christmas Pudding, although I can’t imagine that was left out. The boiled, mashed and fried brussel sprouts probably just overwhelmed all other food memories.

It wasn’t until we were living in Ireland that I had a real Christmas Pudding. We spent Christmas day with a group of friends having a pot luck dinner. Roast turkey, bread sauce (oh, I have to remember to make that this year! That was good!) “Chuffed” potatoes, cranberries in port, (we brought Frenches Green Bean Casserole just for kicks, it wasn’t particularly well received. “What are those shriveled brown things on top?”) and to finish it off, a flaming plum pudding with brandy butter dripping down the sides in a glorious golden pool.

So all this is leading up to the fact that the Christmas Fruit Cakes are mixed, baked and tucked away in their foil to wait till Christmas, and now I’m trying to decided if I want to make a Plumb Pudding as well.

I have all the fruit (leftover from the fruitcake extravaganza) I LOVE plumb pudding (although I think I'm really the only one) but what I don't have is a pudding mold. Every year I flip though the molds on ebay and waver over buying one. It isn't that they are expensive, I could pick one up for under ten dollars probably. The problem lies in this. One) do I need yet another pan in my cupboard, particularly one that gets used once a year? And Two) since I will probably be the only one eating it, do I really need the calories that would come along with it, especially with the brandy butter. The answer to both is of course, no. But still I waver. Yes I could use a bowl and cover it with parchment and foil, but where's the fun in that? Yes fruitcake is pretty much the same thing and yes I could slather brandy butter on that, which I probably will anyway, but there's something delectable about a Christmas Pudding. The dome of sticky brown cake with a sprig of holly tucked under the edge, the flames, the, oh, have I mentioned the brandy butter? No? Well, yummmm, the brandy butter. You see the dilemma I'm facing, don't you?

Well while I ponder I'm going to give you my grandmothers fruitcake recipe. BUT you have to promise to keep it sacred. Don't, you know, go and put it up on the web somewhere. It will be our little secret. And also, don't you dare give a slice to those naysayers. They don't really need to know what they are missing anyway.

Diane's Christmas Fruit Cake (altered a little bit by her granddaughter)
1 cup of rum (I like to stick a vanilla bean skin or two in my rum to soak for a few weeks before)
10 eggs
1 C molasses
1 cup grape juice concentrate
1 cp of VERY strong tea
2 cups sugar, 1 white and 1 brown
1 box of raisins
1 medium container of candied pineapple
1 large and one small container of candied cherries
1 small container of candied lemon or orange peel (or both if your feeling frisky!)
1 large container of candied mixed fruit (you will only use abotu 2/3 of this, but they don't come in smaller containers I've found)
1 pound of butter
4 cups of flour
2 T baking soda
2 T milk
4 t pumpkin pie spice (or a mix of cinnamon, mace, cloves and nutmeg will work)

optional (as in, if you must)
1 package slivered almonds

Mix all the fruit (and nuts if you are a nut person) in with the rum, grapejuice, molasses and tea and let it sit AT LEAST overnight (covered, and try not to pick out too many cherries to much on as they soak)

When they've soaked enough, cream the butter and sugar and add in the eggs one at a time. Sift in flour and baking soda gradually. Mix in the milk and the fruit mixture and stir till combined.

Grease 6 loaf pans and line with parchment. Pour batter in pans and bake at 275 for two hours. As the cake cool, sprinkle with sherry or rum. When completly cool, remove from the pan, keeping the paper on, douse again and wrap tightly in foil. Store in a cool place (the freezer works well but a pantry will do) until Christmas, dousing it every week or so with a little more rum or sherry.

*** Edited to add - After the first two weeks of wrapping and unwrapping for dousing I switched tactics and put all the cakes in deep brownie pans lined with foil and gave them an extra good dollop of rum and sherry then wrapped the whole thing up in more foil. Nice and rummy and just in time for the Christmas season! ***